Thursday, April 01, 2010

Threat Fighting Without Fear Mongering

Yesterday I wrote about how promoting fear undermines the social order more than terrorists do. This brought several questions about how society should appropriately deal with actual threats.

Fear is a life-saver in response to immediate threats. However, when we have a minute to respond with more reason and less adrenaline, we are better off putting our fears back in a proportionate, subordinate place.

It is rational to fear a bear when it is right in your face. It is not helpful to have that level of fear every time you go outside. If you live in bear country you rationally lock up your garbage. You don't do anyone any good by promoting a feeling of fear about a possible bear attack all the time.

Yes, there are small groups plotting attacks designed to kill and maim Americans. They use terrorism to terrify. If we respond by being terrified all the time, the terrorists, by definition, win. If we fight them with as calm, rational, and efficient a method as we can muster, we win. Our military is tracking down a real Muslim militia in Afghanistan and Pakistan without trying to terrify the U.S. population. The FBI is tracking down a real Christian militia in Michigan without trying to terrify the U.S. population. That is the right way to fight threats without promoting fear.


Michael Kruse said...

Anthony Giddens in "Runaway World" has an interesting discussion about risk management in an era of highly complex problems. Public officials walk a tightrope. He points to the slow response of British officials to the mad cow disease. By not sounding the alarm more quickly, a great deal of economic and human suffering was caused that need not have happened. This led to cover-up conspiracy theories that caused people to question the integrity of officials.

On the other hand sound the alarm loud and clear about an impending disaster that never materializes ... and particularly if later it appears it never really had much of a chance to materialize ... then you will get conspiracy theories about how public officials were frightening people for purely political ends. Or alarmist rhetoric that is too high for too long that people end up with fear fatigue. Hope is lost of actually being able to address the problem so let's just eat, drink and be merry.

Gruntled said...

Could the British officials have pushed a more vigorous response to mad cow without promoting fear? I don't know all of their options, but I think way we handled swine flu is a reasonable model.